Manage the amount of water in reservoirs to monitor the risk of drought but also prevent avalanches measuring the snow density in inaccessible places. The key is in new high-tech sensors entirely made in Italy that have a zero environmental impact, can ‘reach’ even in areas that are risky for a technician and that ‘work’ based on the measurement of environmental neutrons produced by cosmic rays. In short, from physics laboratories to concrete daily activities, on World Water Day all this is a reality possible from today in some Piedmontese sites where all Italian new concept probes have been installed. The installations were made by Finapp-Applied Nuclear Physics, a start-up founded by researchers from the University of Padua.
Of the three Piedmont sites: two were created on behalf of the Iren Group and one for Arpa Piemonte with different functions and objectives. Finapp Padova explains that the Iren Group has decided to use this innovative technology to detect the snow water equivalent, that is, a data that allows the density of snow to be measured. Two probes were installed, one above the hydroelectric basin of the Teleccio Dam and one at a height between the Serrù and Agnel lakes. Finapp was founded in 2018 by Luca Stevanato with two other researchers, Marcello Lunardon, Sandra Moretto. The spin off of the University of Padua has developed a slatest generation ensor to measure the water content of the soil, based on the measurement of environmental neutrons produced by cosmic rays: Cosmic-Ray Neutron Sensing.
The startup founded by the three physicists from Padua explains that “these probes, with virtually zero environmental impact, exploit cosmic rays to measure the density of snow, have extremely small dimensions and can work independently, allowing daily analyzes of the state of the snow”. The data obtained, he assures, “will be fundamental for the preventive regulation of water basins e to allow water to be used in energy generation without risking to bring down the basins themselves below the minimum necessary level. It will in fact be possible to know the total amount of water available and in fact regulate the flows in the Valle dell’Orco trying to preserve the necessary resources even in the event of drought “.
Thanks to new technologies, a a step forward compared to the surveys that until now “were carried out by alpine guides that periodically climbed to a height to carry out surveys, resulting not only less precise but also extremely more risky in particular for the operator “because” they are located where it is not easy to arrive except by an impassable path or directly with helicopters “while from now on “they will be able to be more complete every day and without risks for the operators” underlines Finapp. A third Piedmontese probe was installed by Arpa Piemonte at the snow station in Colle del Sestriere for the prevention of avalanches.
“The density, as well as the height of the snow, is one of the parameters that allows you to detect critical situations and to be able to check them daily is fundamental. An additional tool that will allow preventive interventions for safety but also provide important environmental data aimed at regulation of downstream water basins “add the three researchers. “The interaction processes of neutrons – explain the three physicists – are described by models that allow us to trace the average amount of water present in the environment around the same probe. The area that can be explored is of the order of a few hectares. In practice it is the intelligent fusion of the best technologies existing today for the measurement of water in the soil, which offers a unique opportunity to create innovative tools that can also be applied to the world of intelligent agriculture thanks to extremely low costs “.
Piedmont is the second Italian region to use this technology for snow density control and the first that sees a company interested for the first that counts the interest of a multiservice company. In Veneto there are two other probes: one for the detection of the snow above Falcade and a second in the Padua area aimed at measuring the quantity of water in the land for the intelligent management of crops. Also in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna there are some sites of the respective Harp who have adopted this technology for agricultural and environmental surveys. Some installations have been made abroad in Austria for example in Kaunertal also in this case with the aim of verifying the snow density and regulating water basins and hydroelectric production.
But not only. Politenico di Torino and the Region of Tuscany have also expressed their interest in this absolutely unique technology e, and several other countries, including non-European ones. The engineering university of the Piedmontese capital has finished installing the system (value 39 thousand euros), which will be used to monitor the forest biomass in Castello Borello, Val di Susa, a site of interest made famous by the meteorologist Luca Mercalli and Nimbus, the most authoritative Italian portal on meteorology and climate. The area has been studied for more than a decade, it will check how the forest grows after the abandonment of the mountain and global warming. Finapp’s intention is to “grow in 2021 and create an Italian production site” since “the only company capable of making some of the boards necessary to complete the equipment is in fact from the United States”.
The production of these components will instead be brought to the future Padua headquarters in Finapp which will therefore also constitute a second world reality to produce these components. The apparatus being small in size and easy to install it can be used in various fields, from construction to agriculture, where it is necessary to know the water content of an extended area, in real time and with reduced costs and without any environmental impact. The Finapp probe, in fact, does not come into contact with the ground, usually installed at a height of two meters, it can cover an area of at least 4-5 hectares. It does not interfere in any way with the farmer’s activities.
The project is arousing considerable interest and has already received a number of awards; at the StartCup Veneto 2017, finished second overall in the final in Verona (first in the Cleantech & Energy category), while he was among the four finalists National Innovation Award of Naples. At Seed & Chips in Milan in 2018, the largest fair in the world on food and its innovations, Finapp is considered one of the best 60 start-ups in the agritech world and during the exhibition it was selected among the four best startups in the world for the sustainable use of water resources.